Review: Countdown by Michelle Rowen (f/k/a Michelle Maddox)

CountdownFormat Read: eARC from Netgalley
Format Available: paperback, ebook
Genre: YA, SFR
Length: 336
Publisher: Harelquin Teen
Date Released: September 24, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Book Depository, IndieBound.

3 seconds left to live. Once the countdown starts, it cannot be stopped.

2 pawns thrown into a brutal underground reality game. Kira Jordan survived her family’s murder and months on plague-devastated city streets with hard-won savvy and a low-level psi ability. She figures she can handle anything. Until she wakes up in a barren room, chained next to the notorious Rogan Ellis.

1 reason Kira will never, ever trust Rogan. Even though both their lives depend on it. Their every move is controlled and televised for a vicious exclusive audience. And as Kira’s psi skill unexpectedly grows and Rogan’s secrets prove evermore deadly, Kira’s only chance of survival is to risk trusting him as much as her instincts. Even if that means running head-on into the one trap she can’t escape.

GAME OVER.

My Review: Countdown was originally published in 2008, under the nom de plume “Michelle Maddox,” as a fun adult science fiction romance romp. Unfortunately, I was not aware of the provenance of this book when I started reading. It simply began with an air of uncanny familiarity….

Countdown 2.0 was one of those books I grabbed on a whim from Netgalley. Who doesn’t love a scathing critique of Reality TV coupled with murder and mayhem? I chalked my unerring ability to predict dialogue and plot twists up to simple proof that YA had finally devoured itself to the point of unintentional self-parody.

Countdown 1.0It wasn’t until we built up to the obvious sex scene that I noticed something off. YA = no sex. Why am I so damn convinced this will lead to sex? More importantly, why isn’t it leading to sex? This is clearly supposed to be a sex scene. Nobody gives a shit about teens kissing.

At which point I became convinced this was some seriously ballsy plagiarism, and had to frantically search out the original version so I could warn the poor author of the complete disregard for her intellectual property. Imagine my surprise when I learned Michelle Rowen and Michelle Maddox were the same person.

**Countdown (2013) is a rewritten and revamped Young Adult version of Countdown (2008), which I wrote under the pen name Michelle Maddox**

So much for my abortive career as a Crusader for First Amendment Rights.

Michelle was being quite generous when describing Countdown 2.0 as “rewritten.” In a blatant attempt to ride The Hunger Games wave, her editor must’ve told her to turn the protagonists into teens, take out the sex, and they’d rebrand. Easy Money!

Which is quite literally all that was done.

Armed with this knowledge, Countdown 2.0 makes much more sense. In the opening chapters of Countdown 2.0, Rogan, all of 17, is scornful of Kira’s inclusion in the game. She’s just so “young, fresh, and sweet.” Because there is just a world of experience between 16 and 17. That 17th birthday is such a dark transition from innocent smiling child to jaded dead-eyed malefactor. Amiright?

Then the whole build-up to, and fall-out from, the “Reward Room” was absolute and utter bullshit. Teenagers have sex Michelle. Accept it. Own it. Depict it. If you’re too squeamish to depict realistic teen sex, then don’t write the scene.

Escape Rating D/B-: Countdown was a fun read back in 2008. It held up well, and had the advantage of being released before The Hunger Games. Michelle thought of it first! (She also had the decency to introduce a romance without the now obligatory love-triangle of stabbing eye pains.) Take that multi-millionaire author Suzanne Collins!

Countdown 2.0, however, was pretty terrible. You cannot transfer the decisions, dialogue,  relationships, and characterizations of two adult whole cloth to two teenagers. Teens do not talk or act in the same way as their mature counterparts. By lowering the ages of the protagonists and making no other substantive changes (a brother becomes a father, citizenship papers become full-ride scholarship – it’s all cosmetic) you destroy the credibility of your world. If you want me to buy these kids as, well, kids, you have to change everything about them. Write Kira as she would have been as 16. Not as 26-year-old Kira pretending to be 16. Consistency is extremely important in scifi. We need to be able to relate to the characters to accept the future being depicted.

The cognitive dissonance is jarring throughout, particularly for anyone who read the original Countdown, and has the superior version floating around in their brain.

Verdict: Go pick up a copy of Countdown. Skip Countdown 2.0. There is plenty of YA Dystopian out there critiquing the media, video games, and violence in our youth. Most of them even do it better.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Series Shakedown: Psy/Changelings by Nalini Singh

Psy ChangelingRural Alaska towns are not known for their cell reception, or internet accessibility. This makes them most unfortunate locations to be stranded after a catastrophic car failure. Oh Subaru, why hast thou forsaken me?

Aforementioned small towns do, however, have community bookshelves. Free for pillaging!

I was left with a choice of either the futility of convincing rural Alaskans that NO THIS CAN’T WAIT UNTIL TUESDAY, or mainlining the Psy/Changeling series.

Marlene, devoted fangirl that she is, clearly supported my decision escape the crushing reality of a massive towing debt in favor of futuristic inter-special hook-ups.

Was this a wise decision?!

*****

Slave to Sensation: Hmm, how do you circumvent any extremely valid objections people might have to Their Glorious Leader shacking up with an enemy government lackey? Make her physiologically dependent on The Mighty Changeling Cock! (-)

Visions of Heat: Stalking, breaking and entering, sexual assault, and denial of necessary medical care. Someone get this woman a fucking protection order. The Changelings were all high-and-mighty about their anti-murder stance, but they don’t seem too terribly concerned with domestic violence and rape. (-)

caressed by iceCaressed By Ice: What is this? A man who respects a woman’s boundaries, follows her lead, is totally upfront about limitations he is placing on a relationship, and supports her accomplishments? Wolflings unite! Gotta keep the women away from this monster by any means necessary. (+)

Mine to Possess: How dare you be traumatized by being sexually assaulted as a child! That vagina belonged to me! I shall now slut-shame you, verbally abuse you, emotionally batter you, threaten you, demean you, demand sex, and make sure everyone knows that any twinge of emotional discomfort I am feeling is 150% your fault. Alternate Title: The Proto-Jacob. (-)

Hostage to Pleasure: Accidentally bleeding on a child saves his life. Provides necessary leverage to bang his mom. Nailing mommy-dearest psychically cures her twin sister’s homicidal impulses. Damn. All problems truly can be solved through the mighty power of the changeling cock. (-)

Branded by Fire: These groups have been allies for 10 years in an ongoing war against a common enemy. No one has problems with people sleeping with the enemy, but shacking up with an ally is an unthinkable act of betrayal? (-)

Kiss of SnowPlay of Passion: Again with the pretend relationship barries. High-ranking women have been sleeping with their subordinates for millennia. Fuck this misogynist bullshit. Alternative Title: Woman on Top? Haha! That’s a good one. (-)

Kiss of Snow: This hookup has been building for awhile. Bonus points for not creepily stalking and/or isolating her as a teen. His series long ability to not perv over the jailbait, combined with her male relatives acknowledgement that she is an adult capable of making her own goddamn decisions (unlike every other male relative in the series) outweighs the triple crown Dues ex Machina.

How many impossible escape hatches do you need? We have a series long contrivance machine known as the changeling cock. Defrosting Cryo-lady and self-aware psychic networks are not particularly necessary.

See? The Doctor only needs one Deus ex Machina per episode. Reign yourself in!

*****

Is there an alternative title to this series? Something along the lines of the Sexpot Contrivance Machines would be appropriate.

Obviously I didn’t read every book – but unless one of the missing installments discusses how Psy is code for Sex God, I’m gonna call bullshit on the marathon sex sessions. Virgins do not go from zero to Kama Sutra 2.46 seconds. The Psy don’t even masturbate! You expect me to believe guys who have never, upon pain of extreme torture, laid a finger on their packages are going to be able to hold back for that synchronized orgasm? No.

Then we have Contrivance Machine known as the Mighty Changeling Cock. All psychic health issues can be solved by a good deep dicking. What happens when the Psy wants a divorce? Or has an affair?

These eye-roll inducing situations aside, I cannot support the inherit misogyny in every page of the series. Women may only sleep with men pre-approved by their brothers. Only evil women get abortions. Slutty women deserve whatever suffering they’ve endured. A woman’s disinterest in sex must be forcibly eradicated. Are you seeing a pattern? It’s a pattern of infantalizing women. They exist only as extensions of men, and if their preferences or actions run contrary to the men? Well then they are “brats” or “divas” and need to be brought to heel. Though isolation, emotional manipulation, psychological abuse, and physical and/or sexual assault.

The only two books that got a positive rating were those heavily featuring Judd. Who is, as far as I can tell, the only non-sexist man in the series. The rest of them are assholes.

Escape Rating: D.

Review: The Right Bride by Jennifer Ryan

The Right Bride by Jennifer RyanFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: The Hunted, #3
Length: 416 pages
Publisher: Avon Impulse
Date Released: April 30, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

High-powered businessman Cameron Shaw doesn’t believe in love—until he falls head over heels for beautiful, passionate, and intensely private Martina. She’s perfect in so many ways, immediately bonding with his little girl. Martina could be his future bride and a delightful stepmother … if only Cameron weren’t blinded by his belief that Shelly, the gold-digging woman he’s promised to marry, is pregnant with his child.

No matter how much his friends protest his upcoming marriage to Shelly, Cameron knows he has a duty to his children, so he’s determined to see it through.

Will he find out in time that Shelly’s lying and Marti’s the one who’s actually carrying his child? It’ll come down to the day of his wedding. After choosing Shelly over Marti at every turn, will he convince Marti she’s his world and the only woman he wants?

My Review:

An idiot, a gold digger and a doormat walk into a bar…

That should be the start of a really bad joke. It’s also the plot of this train-wreck of a book, The Right Bride by Jennifer Ryan. I say train-wreck also in the classic definition of train-wreck, you know something awful is happening, but you still participate in the “gazer-block”. I couldn’t put the damn thing down, in spite of how much I kept talking back to the characters in my head.

Usually with expletives.

Cameron Shaw is supposed to be a hot-shot business executive. He’s considered to be a smart guy. Really. Having a fling with lying, manipulative gold-digging Shelly because she looks a teensy bit like his dead wife is one thing, but taking it half a second past fling is beyond stupid.

Believing for a nanosecond that she might be pregnant is sheer idiocy, especially when she keeps knocking back martinis. And Cosmopolitans. And tequila.

Martina Fairchild is the perfect woman for Cam, except that he meets her after Shelly makes her baby announcement. Marti really does like all the things that Shelly pretends to like. Even more important, Marti is the one who is genuinely like Cam’s first wife the way it counts, on the inside.

And the real kicker: Cam’s daughter Emma loves Marti, but she’s downright afraid of Shelly, and with good reason. But does Cameron get a clue? No.

Even worse, Marti lays herself down, literally as well as figuratively for the idiot. While Shelly snags Cam in an engagement with her pretend pregnancy, Marti goes and gets herself really knocked up by the man after they bond over taking care of Emma.

Emma is innocent in this whole arrangement, but the grown-ups, not so much. The angst factor was beyond belief. Along with the melodrama. Marti and Cam also share a dying friend who is trying to beat Cam with a clue-by-four before his end.

Bring on the tissues. Cue the violins. Cam and Marti are both supposed to have been smarter than this. Five-year-old Emma must be the business brains in the Shaw family after all.

Escape Rating D+: I never thought there would be a use for a D+ grade, but this book is it. I wanted to scream at these people, page after page after page. But I kept on reading, at least partially because I couldn’t believe that these supposedly intelligent people got themselves into this mess. I think I wanted Marti to grow a spine and walk away.

All of Cam’s friends told him, over and over, that Shelly was a lying witch out for his money, and he refused to believe them. I’m not sure the adults in this story actually deserved their happy ending, but little Emma sure suffered enough to earn hers.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.